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Carlton: Trump, Clinton, and the politics of civility on a neighborhood street

Published Oct. 14, 2016

On a quiet, curving street in a neighborhood north of downtown Tampa, I spot what surely has to be war: Two residents facing off over what has been one ugly presidential election.

Actually, at first I thought I was seeing a single house divided: a tidy bungalow sporting yard signs for both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

Now how nuclear do you suppose dinnertime conversations could get in that house? Did divorce lawyers discreetly leave their business cards in the mailbox?

But no — on closer examination, it turns out the red-white-and-blue yard sign I took to be pro-Clinton actually says "Hillary for Prison 2016." Which leaves little doubt this property is pure Trump territory.

Then, on the lawn of a pretty beige house across the street, I see Clinton support that is clearly genuine: two Hillary signs plus — maybe to offset that call for prison time? — a gentler "Love Trumps Hate" placard in the window.

So this has to be an ugly co-existence, a political face-off, neighbor against neighbor, Republican versus Democrat, take that, you ill-informed, misguided idiot. Did they sneer across the sidewalk as they simultaneously wheeled out their recycle bins? Exchange dirty looks on dog walks?

This election has been that bloody. Immigrants have been reviled and the crude groping of women boasted about, to name a few low-lights. We have heard of infidelities by a husband not actually running for office. One candidate is too feeble to serve, the other too scarily volcanic.

And yes, even in a race for the most sober, important job in America, jail has been threatened.

One of the best questions in the recent town hall cage match between the candidates was this: Knowing that educators assign viewing the presidential debates as students' homework, do you feel you're modeling appropriate and positive behavior for today's youth?

Or the Cliffs Notes version: How low can we go?

So the sign war has to be a bloody one, right?

No, says Alina Morros, a 30-year-old lawyer and Hillary supporter who lives in the beige house.

"He's a good neighbor — we just have different political views," she says of the Trump man across the street. (Sadly, he politely but very firmly declined to talk about this.)

His signs went up first, but only because hers weren't available yet. But no, she did not put them there to face off against his.

They are say-hello, pleasantry-exchanging neighbors on a street where people tend to get along. They have spoken not a word about their juxtaposed political views spelled out on lawns across from each other. She knows he sees hers, and she sees his, "but I guess it's kind of mutual respect."

I'm sorry, but this campaign's been going on a long time, and I'm a little fuzzy on this whole "mutual respect" thing.

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She finds the Hillary-for-prison sentiment a little silly, "but that's everybody's right."

"The way I look at it is, he's my neighbor," she says. "And regardless of what happens, after this election he's still going to be my neighbor."

And there you have it, on a quiet neighborhood street, a little civility in a world that lately has badly lacked it.

Sue Carlton can be reached at carlton@tampabay.com.

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